History of the Railroad

                        The First Railroad

                             In the early 1800s, the majority of American
                             citizens lived on the east coast. Although travel
                             between cities was possible by stagecoach or
                             steamboat, it was a difficult journey. Cities
                             remained somewhat isolated from one another
                             until the birth of the railroad. The first railroad
                             in the U.S., the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, was
                             chartered on February 28, 1827, to build a road
                             to the Ohio River. With-in a few years it
                             stretched thirteen miles from Baltimore to
                             Ellicott's Mills. It reached Ohio in 1841.

                        A Fiery Beast

                             Most people waited anxiously to see the 'iron
                             horse' for the first time, but the railroad also had
                             its share of skeptics. To some, the loud roar of
                             the engine and the billowing smoke were
                             frightening. The steam and sparks spewing from
                             the train led some people to believe that trains
                             were created by the devil himself. Some
                             editorials suggested that locomotives might
                             carry out the work of the devil, and cartoons
                             showed trains jumping their tracks and running
                             down innocent bystanders. Much was done to
                             calm these fears and to stir up public
                             enthusiasm for the railroad. Demonstration runs
                             were usually festive events, complete with brass
                             bands and fireworks.

                        An Accepted Form Of Travel

                             In the 1830s, railroads gained popular
                             acceptance and spread quickly throughout the
                             eastern part of the United States. Despite their
                             growing popularity, trains were still a primitive
                             form of travel. Trains frequently derailed, only
                             to be helped back onto the tracks by the
                             passengers they carried. Comfort was also an
                             issue ­ seats were backless wooden benches, and
                             there was little heat. By 1840, many of these
                             problems were resolved and railroads
                             continually sought ways to make the ride more

                        The Civil War & The Rail

                             When the Civil War broke out, the North had
                             more miles of rail than the South, and a more
                             structured railroad system. This gave the North
                            a definite edge in the war. At the beginning of
                             the war, the U.S. government was granted
                             authority to use the railroads for moving troop s
                             and supplies. Union officers slowly learned how
                             to use the railroads to their benefit ­ as well as
                             how to destroy the railroads of the Confederacy.
                             The railroad played a role in the end of the Civil
                             War as well. Facing defeat, Jefferson Davis fled
                             by train at the end of the war. When President
                             Lincoln was assassinated, his body returned
                             home to Springfield, Illinois, aboard a funeral


                             What had seemed like a dream a few decades
                             earlier became a reality in May of 1869 ­ the
                             trans-continental railroad. Built jointly by the
                             Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, the
                             railroad linked the continent from Atlantic
                             Ocean to Pacific Ocean. The transcontinental
                             was started in 1862 with the Pacific Railway
                             Act. This tremendous feat required millions of
                             dollars, thousands of workers, tremendous
                             hardship and 7 years to complete ­ and changed
                             the face of our nation.

                        A Golden Era

                             The growth of railroads in the last decades of
                             the 19th century was phenomenal. Before the
                             Civil War there were approximately 31,000
                             miles of railroad track in the United States,
                             which increased to over 252,000 miles by the
                             early 1900's. Not only was more track laid, but
                             the railroads themselves were becoming bigger
                             and better. Better equipment, faster engines, and
                             improved safety features made travel by rail
                             faster and safer. Unification of railroad lines
                             also made for easier travel. Instead of numerous
                             train switches and layovers, passengers could
                             now travel long distances on one train. Once
                             again, the people of a nation were changing their
                             way of travel.

                        A Nation Moves On

                             With the invention of the automobile in the
                             1920s, things began to change. Trucks and
                             buses came on the scene and changed the way
                             Americans traveled and shipped freight.
                             Throughout the 1930s, money that previously
                             was spent to purchase train tickets was used to
                             purchase bus tickets and cars. World War II was
                             the last hurrah for the railroads. The rail was
                             used to transport troops and armaments, and
                             once again was used exten-sively by the average
                             American, because gas was rationed and air
                             travel was not an option. The heavy rail usage
                             during the war caused much wear and tear on
                             equipment. Equipment failures were much more
                             common by the end of the war. Much of the
                             rail's business went to the airlines in post-war
                             years, and the railroad entered into a downward
                             spiral. Railroads today are used mainly for
                             carrying freight.

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